The White House took its biggest swing against the Maduro regime yet by issuing sanctions against the state-owned PDVSA oil firm in a move that is likely to reverberate throughout Venezuela.
During a press conference in the mid-afternoon, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin said that “all property and interests in property” belonging to PDVSA in the United States were blocked, and that all U.S. persons from engaging in transactions with the oil firm. Mnuchin suggested that the sanctions would be lifted whenever it was sure that the company was under the control of interim president Juan Guaido.
At today’s press conference, Mnuchin said:
The United States is holding accountable those responsible for Venezuela’s tragic decline, and will continue to use the full suite of its diplomatic and economic tools to support Interim President Juan Guaidó, the National Assembly, and the Venezuelan people’s efforts to restore their democracy
The sanctions mean that Venezuela’s only source of income by far is now dead in the water. As a result, these sanctions are likely to have a devastating impact on the country’s finances, and are likely to manifest themselves in ways that will be felt by the average Venezuelan.
National Security Adviser John Bolton was also present during the press conference. Bolton said that as many as $7 billion in PDVSA assets are now frozen, and that the sanctions might cost Venezuela $11 billion in oil sales.
Bolton was holding a notepad with some notes scribbled on them. A photographer managed to take a picture of Bolton with the notepad, which allegedly read:
Afghanistan open to talking
5,000 troops to Colombia
While the “Afghanistan” note was obviously not related to Venezuela, the “Colombia” one is likely to have been. Bolton did not mention the note during the press conference.
Guaido Moves On Regime Money Overseas
The sanctions on PDVSA came on the same day that Guaido announced that he was leading a process to secure Venezuelan assets abroad with the goal of ensuring that they are kept out of the hands of corrupt officials who might be trying to access them right now.
Guaido made the announcement via a statement shared on Twitter, part of which reads:
Starting now we are starting the progressive and controlled takeover of our Republic’s assets abroad, to stop the usurper [Maduro] and his gang–not satisfied with everything they’ve stolen from Venezuela–from “scraping the pan” and keep stealing Venezuelans’ money, financing international crime and using this money to torture our people, denying them of food and medicine and murdering whoever who out to protest for their rights.
In the same statement, Guaido said that he has “started the process” of naming new executive boards at PDVSA and CITGO.
The statement does not say when that process might be finished.
Maduro Responds to Sanctions News
Speaking during a televised address this evening, Maduro spoke about the sanctions on PDVSA, and called them “illegal”. Maduro said that John Bolton is “trying to steal [CITGO]”, and that he would take “political [and] legal” actions against the move.
He did not specify what this actions would look like.
Lima Group to Meet on February 4
The Lima Group will meet in Ottawa on February 4 to discuss the ongoing crisis in Venezuela.
In a statement posted on its website today, the Canadian government announced the meeting in the following way:
The upcoming meeting will bring together the foreign ministers of the Lima Group countries as well as participants from the broader international community. They will meet to discuss support for Juan Guaidó, Venezuela’s interim president, and to explore ways in which the international community can further support the people of Venezuela.
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